Editorial : Manpower Shortage Surfaces as Exhibitions Return

【明報專訊】As the city's first major exhibition after its full return to normal, the "Hong Kong International Jewellery Show" has drawn tens of thousands of overseas buyers. The exhibition hall is teeming with people in numbers comparable to pre-pandemic levels. This is a shot in the arm for Hong Kong's convention and exhibition industry. However, the hurried setting up of booths and the poor hospitality at the venue have highlighted the challenge of manpower shortage in Hong Kong's post-pandemic reconstruction.

Before the pandemic, the convention and exhibition industry brought tens of billions of dollars in economic benefits to Hong Kong every year. However, Hong Kong's borders remained closed prolongedly amid the pandemic. In contrast, the city's competitors such as Singapore basically returned to normal in the second half of last year. Some international exhibitions and large-scale events originally conducted in Hong Kong were relocated to other parts of the world. Some people worried that Hong Kong's "international exhibition centre" status would be gone forever. The Hong Kong International Jewellery Show held this week (1-5 March) is the first major international exhibition after Hong Kong has fully reopened its borders and returned to normal. On the first day, the exhibition venue was packed with people. Such an enthusiastic atmosphere will go some way towards dispelling overly pessimistic sentiments.

The budget proposed that an additional $200 million be allocated to the Hong Kong Tourism Board to line up more international conferences and exhibitions in the city. This will have a positive effect on accelerating the recovery of the convention and exhibition industry. However, the manpower bottleneck the industry faces must be overcome as soon as possible. Otherwise, even if Hong Kong is successful in bringing in even more major conventions and exhibition events, the industry will find it hard to swallow in one gulp.

Take the International Jewellery Show as an example. Exhibitors said that in the same predicament as tour operators, the short-staffed convention and exhibition industry has to "leave some customers unserved". Buyers complained that they had queued for three hours to enter the venue on the first day of the expo. Some had managed to finish setting up booths just before the event opened, but the lighting system was inadequate. As contractors explained, they too suffered from manpower shortage as their workers had changed job fields. All these affect the experiences of buyers and exhibitors.

Over the past 20 years, Hong Kong has had a continuously falling birth rate; its fertility rate has shown an obvious downward trend. A shrinking labour population was in the making long ago. Before the pandemic, certain industries were already moaning about staff shortages. The post-pandemic recovery and an emigration wave intensify the problem. Hong Kong's manpower can no longer support the scale of its current economy, let alone cope with its long-term developments with an ageing population. The authorities need to evaluate comprehensively the short-, medium- and long-term manpower demand, devise population policies, import more foreign workers, promote the movement of persons in the Greater Bay Area and widen the door for mainlanders to travel southward and work in Hong Kong.

If we look around the world, we can see that as a leading metropolis, New York City has a permanent population of only about 8 million. The reason is that it is closely linked with surrounding cities, forming a megalopolis with a population of more than 20 million. The population in the area is highly mobile, with people working in New York City in the daytime and returning to the city where they live after work.

The integration of the Greater Bay Area will presumably also develop in this direction. If there are many development opportunities in the Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong people will naturally travel northward. Similarly, as long as Hong Kong provides good opportunities and good jobs, it also attracts Greater Bay Area residents to come southward. The key is for the authorities to remove the obstacles and lower the cost of their travel.

明報社評2023.03.03:「展覽之都」重現光芒 人手荒折射深層問題










teem with (sth) : to be full of people, animals, etc. moving around

line up : to arrange for an event or activity to happen, or arrange for sb to be available to do sth

megalopolis : a very large city or group of cities where a great number of people live

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